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LETTER TO MR. GIFFORD.
life, my sense of which I can neither express to Mr. Gifford himself nor to any one else? "Ever yours, "N."
LETTER 122. TO W. GIFFORD, ESQ. "June 18. 1813.
"My dear Sir,
"I feel greatly at a loss how to write to you at all still more to thank you as I ought. If you knew the veneration with which I have ever regarded you, long before I had the most distant prospect of becoming your acquaintance, literary or personal, my embarrassment would not surprise you.
"Any suggestion of yours, even were it conveyed in the less tender shape of the text of the Baviad, or a Monk Mason note in Massinger, would have been obeyed; I should have endeavoured to improve myself by your censure: judge then if I should be less willing to profit by your kindness. It is not for me to bandy compliments with my elders and my betters: I receive your approbation with gratitude, and will not return my brass for your gold by expressing more fully those sentiments of admiration, which, however sincere, would, I know, be unwel
"To your advice on religious topics, I shall equally attend. Perhaps the best way will be by avoiding them altogether. The already published objectionable passages have been much commented upon, but certainly have been rather strongly interpreted. I am no bigot to infidelity, and did not expect that, because I doubted the immortality of man, I should be charged with denying the existence of a God. It was the comparative insignificance of ourselves and our world, when placed in comparison with the mighty whole, of which it is an atom, that first led me to imagine that our pretensions to eternity might be over-rated.
"This, and being early disgusted with a Calvinistic Scotch school, where I was cudgelled to church for the first ten years of my life, afflicted me with this malady; for, after all, it is, I believe, a disease of the
1 The remainder of this letter, it appears, has been lost.
2 ["And ah! what verse can grace thy stately mien,
"These lines contain the secret history of Quatremer de Quiney's deportation. He presumed, in the council of five-hundred, to arraign Madame de Stael's conduct, and even to hint a doubt of her sex. He was sent to Guiana."
— Canning's New Morality.]
mind as much as other kinds of hypochondria."1
LETTER 123. TO MR. MOORE.
"June 22. 1813.
Yesterday I dined in company with [Stael,] the Epicene,' whose politics are sadly changed. She is for the Lord of Israel and the Lord of Liverpool-a vile antithesis of a Methodist and a Tory-talks of nothing but devotion and the ministry, and, I presume, expects that God and the government will help her to a pension.
Murray, the aval of publishers, the Anak of stationers, has a design upon you in the paper line. He wants you to become the staple and stipendiary editor of a periodical work. What say you? Will you be bound, like Kit Smart, to write for ninety-nine years in the Universal Visitor?" Seriously, he talks of hundreds a year, and though I hate prating of the beggarly elements-his proposal may be to your honour and profit, and, I am very sure, will be to our pleasure.
"I don't know what to say about 'friendship.' I never was in friendship but once, in my nineteenth year, and then it gave me as much trouble as love. I am afraid, as Whitbread's sire said to the king, when he wanted to knight him, that I am too old + ;' but, nevertheless, no one wishes you more friends, fame, and felicity, than,
he thought right to put forth, found ready who had visited Athens soon after it hapcredence:
pened, to furnish him with his recollections on the subject; and the following is the answer which Lord Sligo returned:
LETTER 120. TO MR. MURRAY.
April 21. 1813. "I shall be in town by Sunday next, and will call and have some conversation on the subject of Westall's designs. I am to sit to him for a picture at the request of a friend of mine; and as Sanders's is not a good one, you will probably prefer the other. I wish you to have Sanders's taken down and sent to my lodgings immediately before my arrival. I hear that a certain malicious publication on Waltzing is attributed to me. This report, I suppose, you will take care to contradict, as the author, I am sure, will not like that I should wear his cap and bells. Mr. Hobhouse's quarto will be out immediately; pray send to the author for an early copy, which I wish to take abroad with me.
P. S.-I see the Examiner threatens some observations upon you next week. What can you have done to share the wrath which has heretofore been principally expended upon the Prince? Î presume all your Scribleri will be drawn up in battle array in defence of the modern Tonson-Mr. Bucke, for instance.
Send in my account to Bennet Street, as I wish to settle it before sailing."
In the month of May appeared his wild and beautiful "Fragment," The Giaour; and though, in its first flight from his hands, some of the fairest feathers of its wing were yet wanting, the public hailed this new offspring of his genius with wonder and delight. The idea of writing a poem in fragments had been suggested to him by the Columbus of Mr. Rogers; and, whatever objections may lie against such a plan in general, it must be allowed to have been well suited to the impatient temperament of Byron, as enabling him to overleap those mechanical difficulties, which, in a regular narrative, embarrass, if not chill, the poet, - leaving it to the imagination of his readers to fill up the intervals between those abrupt bursts of passion in which his chief power lay. The story, too, of the poem possessed that stimulating charm for him, almost indispensable to his fancy, of being in some degree connected with himself, - an event in which he had been personally concerned, while on his travels, having supplied the groundwork on which the fiction was founded. After the appearance of The Giaour, some incorrect statement of this romantic incident having got into circulation, the noble author requested of his friend, the Marquis of Sligo,
Albany, Monday, August 31. 1813.
"My dear Byron,
"You have requested me to tell you all that I heard at Athens about the affair of that girl who was so near being put an end to while you were there; you have asked me to mention every circumstance, in the remotest degree relating to it, which I heard. In compliance with your wishes, I write to you all I heard, and I cannot imagine it to be very far from the fact, as the circumstance happened only a day or two before I arrived at Athens, and, consequently, was a matter of common conversation at the time.
The new governor, unaccustomed to have the same intercourse with the Christians as his predecessor, had of course the barbarous Turkish ideas with regard to women. In consequence, and in compliance with the strict letter of the Mahommedan law, he ordered this girl to be sewed up in a sack, and thrown into the sea, - as is, indeed, quite customary at Constantinople. As you were returning from bathing in the Piræus, you met the procession going down to execute the sentence of the Waywode on this unfortunate girl. Report continues to say, that on finding out what the object of their journey was, and who was the miserable sufferer, you immediately interfered; and on some delay in obeying your orders, you were obliged to inform the leader of the escort, that force should make him comply ;— that, on farther hesitation, you drew a pistol, and told him, that if he did not immediately obey your orders, and come back with you to the Aga's house, you would shoot him dead. On this the man turned about and went with you to the governor's house; here you succeeded, partly by personal threats, and partly by bribery and entreaty, in procuring her pardon, on condition of her leaving Athens. I was told that you then conveyed her in safety to the convent, and despatched her off at night to Thebes, where she found a safe asylum. Such is the story I heard, as nearly as I can recollect it at present. Should you wish to ask me any further questions about it, I shall be very ready and willing to answer them. I remain, my dear Byron,
Of the prodigal flow of his fancy, when its sources were once opened on any subject, The Giaour affords one of the most remarkable instances, - this poem having accumulated under his hand, both in printing and through successive editions, till from four hundred lines, of which it consisted in his first copy, it at present amounts to nearly fourteen hundred. The plan, indeed, which he had adopted, of a series of fragments, - a set of "orient pearls at random strung," -left him free to introduce, without reference to more than the general complexion of his story, whatever sentiments or images his fancy, in its excursions, could collect; and how little fettered he was by any regard to connection in these additions, appears from a note which accompanied his own copy of the paragraph commencing "Fair clime, where every season smiles," which he says, "I have not yet fixed the place of insertion for the following lines, but will, when I see you - as I have no copy." Even into this new passage, rich as it was at first, his fancy afterwards poured a fresh infusion, the whole of its most picturesque portion, from the line "For there, the Rose o'er crag or vale," down to "And turns to groans his roundelay," having been suggested to him during revision. In order to show, however, that though so rapid in the first heat of composition, he formed no exception to that law which imposes labour as the price of perfection, I shall here extract a few verses from his original draft of this paragraph, by comparing which with the form they wear at present 2, we may learn to appreciate the value of these after-touches of the master.
"Fair clime! where ceaseless summer smiles Benignant o'er those blessed isles,
1 ["It is a fragment,' it is true; but it reads like one of those old woful tragic ballads, in which the hiatus seem caused by the falling away of all needless stanzas, and the stream of suffering leaps darkly and foamingly over each chasm in the rocks."- WILSON.]
The following are the lines in their present shape, and it will be seen that there is not a single alteration in which the music of the verse has not been improved as well as the thought: —
"Fair clime! where every season smiles
Which, seen from far Colonna's height,
Which, seen from far Colonna's height,
Among the other passages added to this edition (which was either the third or fourth, and between which and the first there intervened but about six weeks) was that most beautiful and melancholy illustration of the lifeless aspect of Greece, beginning" He who hath bent him o'er the dead," - of which the most gifted critic of our day 3 has justly pronounced, that "it contains an image more true, more mournful, and more exquisitely finished, than any we can recollect in the whole compass of poetry." + To the same edition also were added, among other accessions of wealth 5, those lines, "The cygnet proudly walks the water," and the impassioned verses, "My memory now is but the tomb."
On my rejoining him in town this spring, I found the enthusiasm about his writings and himself, which I left so prevalent, both in the world of literature and in society, grown, if any thing, still more general and intense. In the immediate circle, perhaps, around him, familiarity of intercourse might have begun to produce its usual disenchanting effects. His own liveliness and unreserve on a more inviate acquaintance, would not be long in dispelling that charm of poetic sadness, which to the eyes of distant observers hung about him; while the romantic notions, connected by some of his fair readers with those past and nameless loves alluded to in his poems, ran some risk
And if at times a transient ree
Or sweep one blossom
How welcome is each gentle air
That wakes and wafts the odours there!"
3 Mr. Jeffrey.
4 In Dallaway's Constantinople, a book which Lord Byron is not unlikely to have consulted, I find a passage quoted from Gillies's History of Greece, which contains, perhaps, the first seed of the thought thus expanded into full perfection by genius:-" The present state of Greece compared to the ancient is the silent obscurity of the grave contrasted with the vivid lustre of active life."
5 Among the recorded instances of such happy afterthoughts in poetry may be mentioned, as one of the most memorable, Denham's four lines, "Oh could I flow like thee," &c., which were added in the second edition of his poem.
of abatement from too near an acquaintance with the supposed objects of his fancy and fondness at present. A poet's mistress should remain, if possible, as imaginary a being to others, as, in most of the attributes he clothes her with, she has been to himself; -the reality, however fair, being always sure to fall short of the picture which a too lavish fancy has drawn of it. Could we call up in array before us all the beauties whom the love of poets has immortalised, from the high-born dame to the plebeian damsel, from the Lauras and Sacharissas down to the Cloes and Jeannies, should, it is to be feared, sadly unpeople our imaginations of many a bright tenant that poesy has lodged there, and find, in more than one instance, our admiration of the faith and fancy of the worshipper increased by our discovery of the worthlessness of the idol.
But, whatever of its first romantic impression the personal character of the poet may, from such causes, have lost in the circle he most frequented, this disappointment of the imagination was far more than compensated by the frank, social, and engaging qualities, both of disposition and manner, which, on a nearer intercourse, he disclosed, as well as by that entire absence of any literary assumption or pedantry, which entitled him fully to the praise bestowed by Sprat upon Cowley, that few could " ever discover he was a great poet by his discourse." While thus, by his intimates, and those who had got, as it were, behind the scenes of his fame, he was seen in his true colours, as well of weakness as of miableness, on strangers, and such as were out of this immediate circle, the spell of his poetical character still continued to operate; and the fierce gloom and sternness of his imaginary personages were, by the greater number of them, supposed to belong, not only as regarded mind, but manners, to himself. So prevalent and persevering has been this notion, that, in some disquisitions the character published since his death, and containing otherwise
1 Letters on the Character and Poetical Genius of Lord Byron, by Sir Egerton Brydges, Bart.
2 Continuus aspectus minus verendos magnos homines facit."
3 The only peculiarity that struck me on those occasions was the uneasy restlessness which he seemed to feel in wearing a hat, an article of dress which, from his constant use of a carriage while in England, he was almost wholly unaccustomed to, and which, after that year, I do not remember to have ever seen upon him again. Abroad, he always wore a kind of foraging cap.
4 ["Such painting as this bespeaks the hand of a master; every touch brings out character; and we feel assured that the portrait is true to nature. There is
many just and striking views, we find, in the professed portrait drawn of him, such features as the following:-" Lord Byron had a stern, direct, severe mind: a sarcastic, disdainful, gloomy temper. He had no light sympathy with heartless cheerfulness-upon the surface was sourness, discontent, displeasure, ill-will. Beneath all this weight
of cloud and darkness '," &c. &c.
Of the sort of double aspect which he thus presented, as viewed by the world and by his friends, he was himself fully aware; and it not only amused him, but, as a proof of the versatility of his powers, flattered his pride. He was, indeed, as I have already remarked, by no means insensible or inattentive to the effect he produced personally on society; and though the brilliant station he had attained, since the commencement of my acquaintance with him, made not the slightest alteration in the unaffectedness of his private intercourse, I could perceive, I thought, with reference to the external world, some slight changes in his conduct, which seemed indicative of the effects of his celebrity upon him. Among other circumstances, I observed that, whether from shyness of the general gaze, or from a notion, like Livy's, that men of eminence should not too much familiarise the public to their persons, he avoided showing himself in the mornings, and in crowded places, much more than was his custom when we first became acquainted. The preceding year, before his name had grown "so rife and celebrated,” we had gone together to the exhibition at Somerset House, and other such places 3, and the true reason, no doubt, of his present reserve, in abstaining from all such miscellaneous haunts, was the sensitiveness, so often referred to, on the subject of his lameness, -a feeling which the curiosity of the public eye, now attracted to this infirmity by his fame, could not fail, he knew, to put rather painfully to the proof. +
Among the many gay hours we passed together this spring, I remember particularly the wild flow of his spirits one evening,
vindication in such free and fearless friendship which is irresistible, and we love the biographer who, by simple and undisguised truth, puts down falsehood till its tongue drops its idle venom in the dust. Strong sense and fine || sentiment here glow in every line; love for the poor inhabitant below engenders no hatred towards the malignity that would fain stir and disturb his very shroud; but his eulogist is serene, in the conscious pride of being privileged to confess the frailties of him whose character, in spite of them all, was still noble-nor by any exaggeration of his virtues, any more than of his vices, would seek to wrong Byron any where, and
'least of all,
Here standing by his grave.""- WILSON.]
when we had accompanied Mr. Rogers home from some early assembly, and when Lord Byron, who, according to his frequent custom, had not dined for the last two days, found his hunger no longer governable, and called aloud for "something to eat." Our repast, - of his own choosing,- was simple bread and cheese; and seldom have I partaken of so joyous a supper. It happened that our host had just received a presentation copy of a volume of poems', written professedly in imitation of the old English writers, and containing, like many of these models, a good deal that was striking and beautiful, mixed up with much that was trifling, fantastic, and absurd. In our mood, at the moment, it was only with these latter qualities that either Lord Byron or I felt disposed to indulge ourselves; and, in turning over the pages, we found, it must be owned, abundant matter for mirth. In vain did Mr. Rogers, in justice to the author, endeavour to direct our attention to some of the beauties of the work :- it suited better our purpose (as is too often the case with more deliberate critics) to pounce only on such passages as ministered to the laughing humour that possessed us. In this sort of hunt through the volume, we at length lighted on the discovery that our host, in addition to his sincere approbation of some of its contents, had also the motive of gratitude for standing by its author, as one of the poems was a warm, and, I need not add, We well-deserved panegyric on himself. ¡were, however, too far gone in nonsense for even this eulogy, in which we both so heartily agreed, to stop us. The opening line of the poem was, as well as I can recollect, "When Rogers o'er this labour bent;" and Lord Byron undertook to read it aloudbut he found it impossible to get beyond the first two words. Our laughter had now increased to such a pitch that nothing could restrain it. Two or three times he began; but no sooner had the words "When Rogers" passed his lips, than our fit burst forth afresh, till even Mr. Rogers himself, with all his feeling of our injustice, found it impossible not to join us; and we were, at last, all three, in such a state of inextinguishable laughter, that, had the author himself
1 [Poems on several Occasions, by Edward Lord Thurlow."]
2 He here alludes to a dinner at Mr. Rogers's, of which I have elsewhere given the following account:-" The company consisted but of Mr. Rogers himself, Lord Byron, Mr. Sheridan, and the writer of this Memoir. Sheridan knew the admiration his audience felt for him: the presence of the young poet, in particular, seemed to bring back his own youth and wit; and the details he gave of his early life were not less interesting and ani
"And thus to furnish decent lining,
My own and others' bays I'm twiningSo, gentle Thurlow, throw me thine in."
On the same day I received from him the The lines in following additional scraps. italics are from the eulogy that provoked his waggish comments.
"TO LORD THURLOW.
I lay my branch of laurel down. "Thou lay thy branch of laurel down!'
Why, what thou'st stole is not enow; And, were it lawfully thine own,
Does Rogers want it most, or thou? Keep to thyself thy wither'd bough,
Or send it back to Dr. DonneWere justice done to both, I trow,
He'd have but little, and thou-none.
mating to himself than delightful to us. It was in the course of this evening that, describing to us the poem which Mr. Whitbread had written, and sent in, among the other addresses for the opening of Drury Lane theatre, and which, like the rest, turned chiefly on allusions to the Phoenix, he said But Whitbread made more of this bird than any of them:- he entered into particulars, and described its wings, beak, tail, &c. ;- in short, it was a poulterer's description of a Phoenix."Life of Sheridan.